This battle with the ‘old enemy’ always draws a bumper crowd to the compact Athlone venue and they meet again tonight at 7.35pm in a 6 Nations u20 clash. Dubarry Park’s central location and ease of access from the M4 motorway ensures it is an easy reach from the broader Midlands as well as from Dublin and Galway for one of sports great rivalries.
Ireland have a wonderful record in Dubarry Park over the past six seasons and a new-look squad will be greatly encouraged by the recent Junior World Cup victory over England that helped secure a highest ever finish in that tournament. Luke McGrath, Stuart Olding, and Josh van der Flier are the only survivors from that competition in South Africa last summer. Nevertheless, an inexperienced Ireland was unlucky to lose 17-15 away to Wales in the opening round last Friday. The Principality had eight survivors from last season’s campaign so were the much more experienced outfit.
Connacht and Midlands sports followers will be hopeful that Buccaneers rising starlet Robbie Henshaw will start on his home ground against England. The Athlone teenager was rested last week after a hectic season of over 20 matches to date. He would certainly add to the electricity if selected and would likely start at fullback which could release the more composed Olding to his preferred outhalf role. Corinthians David Panther did well in his brief stint and he could well replace the slight Alex O’Meara on the wing.
When England last played in Dubarry Park, Stuart Lancaster was their coach and his graph continues on an upward curve now with the senior squad. He has not been slow to tap in on that u20 squad and four of the players involved in 2011 played in England’s recent landmark victory over the All Blacks. Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Maku Vunipola, and Jonathan Joseph are the quartet, the first three also starting in last Saturday’s Calcutta Cup win over Scotland. Tom Youngs and Danny Care are two others who come to mind who have featured at u20 level in Athlone in recent seasons as have Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, and Keith Earls, all eight of whom played in Ireland’s exciting win over Wales at the weekend. So, if you want to see the rugby stars of the future, then Dubarry Park is the place to be tonight!
Tickets are now on sale at The Bounty for this highly attractive match. Family tickets are good value at €30 for two adults and two children in the covered terrace. Stand tickets cost €20 each - group bookings welcome. For more information on tickets call Geraldine on (086 ) 1732711.